Human memory is not mere nostalgia for, or sentimentality about, the past. It is a vibrant and creative source of formation. It is one of the incarnational sources of our life-long formation, along with the imagination and anticipation which it evokes. Those who live in our memory reside there, in part, because their lives and presence to us have summoned and continue to summon us to our unique and communal life call that is the core of our spiritual identity. How does our memory of Brother Harold Boyle impel us, in whatever our individual or communal circumstances, to embrace the future with hope?
Later in his life Brother Harold was introduced to the Catholic charismatic movement. This experience led him to realize even more fully than ever before the love and action of the Holy Spirit in the world. He did not hold this as an intellectual belief but as the heart of human experience and gospel mission. In the monograph of 1989 written with Brother Jan Devadder, which was mentioned in an earlier piece, he wrote:
It was this faith in the mysterious action of God’s Spirit that made Ryken pray in the trying times of uncertainty regarding the future: “O Lord, I cannot understand your ways, but I must adore them.” It made him feel confident that God could perform great things with poor instruments, “even if He wants to use a sinner” for accomplishing them. Consequently today he would still insist on the need of keeping an intimate relationship with God, encouraging his followers to “look at Jesus” and to remain forever “in love with the service of God.”
As he aged, Harold deepened in the prayerful conviction that God’s creative spirit was always at work even in those situations and experiences that seemed empty of possibility. He seemed to understand and to live with equanimity the truth that “God’s ways are not our ways,” and that the Spirit of God works, in words of St. Ignatius that were so significant for Brother Ryken, “where and as it wills.”
Ted Dunn, Ph.D. begins an article in Human Development magazine (Vol 31, No.2, Summer 2010) with these words: “When a community has more memories than it does dreams, it is dying.” Now one might understandably assert that an aging and weakening group has nothing left but memories. But this would be to miss the message of Pentecost as Peter proclaims to the people the outpouring of the Spirit they are witnessing:
. . .this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Acts 2: 16-17
To choose life is to embrace the visions of the young and the dreams of the old. But to follow a vision and to continue to dream as we age is not easy. In the years since the call for renewal of the Second Vatican Council, there have been many attempts at re-visioning Brother Ryken’s charismatic impulse. Some of these, as we read in the previous series about the refoundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have led to new growth and possibility for the Congregation. Many of these attempts, however, seem to have had just the opposite effect. Our entire history is a reminder that not every vision and every dream is a manifestation of the Spirit. The road to personal and communal formation, reformation, and transformation is never a smooth one. This is why we must continually deepen our fidelity to our call, our willingness to be continually converted, and our commitment to God’s work in and through us as we attempt to follow that call.
In the text alluded to above, Brothers Harold and Jan Devadder commented on the struggles of “renewal” as follows:
In fact, adaptation occasionally became a euphemism for an unmistakable trend towards a “bourgeois” life-style, which has little appeal to young people today.
Perhaps in the renewal process the same mistake was made which can be detected in Ryken’s personal life story. The conversion he alluded to in his short autobiographical sketch had been a momentous and decisive reality for him. Yet a conversion has to be an ongoing process and, historically speaking, there is evidence that during a long and painful period Ryken lost sight of this essential aspect of his conversion. The same holds for the renewal of a religious body. A soul-searching day-by-day response to God’s call is not restricted to individual religious. It also must involve the Congregation as a whole, its leadership, structures, activities, commitments and priorities. (p. 52)
The manifestation of the Spirit of God at Pentecost was a pivotal and recreative historical moment, and in our own individual and communal lives, the Spirit’s presence has the potential, as we pray, “to renew the face of the earth.” The human condition,however, has a consistent resistance to this possibility. There is a tiredness and weakness of body that comes with aging and is a part of God’s Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection. On the other hand, there is a tiredness and weakness of spirit that comes when we cease to
Stand ready to answer God
when God asks you
if you are available for Him
to become more present in your life and through you to the world.
It is not our age or our physical strength that are the primary obstacles to the Spirit’s work in and through us. Rather it is our tendency to lose sight of the ongoing nature of the call to personal and communal conversion.
We remember those who go before us that in the gratitude we experience for their fidelity and evocation of what is best and truest in us, we might dream anew what the Spirit of God is now asking us to be, whatever it may cost us, for a world that needs, perhaps more than ever, the gift of Brother Ryken’s dream.